Bear with the dated graphics and clunky interface and you'll uncover an experience unique to console gaming.

User Rating: 9 | Operation Flashpoint: Elite XBOX
When I first settled down to check out yet another PC-to-console port of a military shooter, I admit I didn't have an entirely open mind. The graphics were badly behind the times, the interface lacked an intuitive feel and the map (an entire island about the size of a small county) was so huge, I found myself left out of the action early and often. Thankfully, I stuck with this title and gave it a chance, because what I discovered was an experience closer to the exemplary "Battlefield" offerings on PC than anything I'd ever played on any console.

Once I mastered the interface and properly employed the topographic "over world" map, about two hours into the game, things began to fall into place and the strengths of this title began to shine. One of the very first things I learned was this: Bad graphics are easy to get over when AI is this smart. My preferred style of play was to outfit my squad with heavier arms and direct them from a high point with a sniper rifle (lending the occasional pick-off as needed) and - I mean this in a weird, complimentary way - I felt totally left out of the action on some missions because my AI squad carried out their orders so effectively. Other times, if I was sneaking into a base, I might order a couple squad mates into a parked tank and watch them wreak havoc, causing a diversion while the rest of us carried out the mission. The customization in load-out and how one deploys their troops is almost limitless. Throw in the fact that nearly every vehicle a player sees can be commandeered (and manned by your brainy AI partners, if you so choose) and what we have is a military sandbox shooter that no other game on any console offers.

Mission structure is wide and varied. You'll find yourself ambushing many convoys (not a bad thing) and occasionally hi-jacking a tank or chopper. Ferrying troops in a Black Hawk and commanding tank columns are also something one gets to experience as the game progresses. Mostly, you'll be out-numbered, out-gunned and carefully guiding your men in on-foot ground combat through forests, sparse cities, airbases and enemy encampments. Just remember, your AI enemies are just as smart as your AI buddies (and sometimes even YOU) and one shot often equals instant death.

Unfortunately, I haven't played this title on line, but from what I've read, it has a loyal following and offers multi player thrills similar to "Battlefield". In tinkering with the easy-to-use map editor, I've found that it's a great way to extend the single player experience and create some truly unique scenarios. This feature, while not perfect - sometimes AI won't behave and columns you create can tend to scatter - is limited only by the user's patience and creativity.

The bad--

It ain't a pretty game and ultra-realism means: Occasional slow pacing and long stretches of boredom (and restarting missions when your objectives somehow don't get met). One shot and you're dead methodical game play can be frustrating. Getting lost/out of the action on a huge map makes for long, LONG walks if you're not careful. The interface is clunky and takes practice. You CAN come to grips with helicopter handling (and actually get good at it), but fixed-wing controls are utterly broken.

The good--

AI is top-notch. The game is infinitely customizable in terms of how you employ weapons and troops. Your load-outs for your squad allow you to play missions any way you want. Ever order a sniper to take out the guard in front of you? Ever sent your tank column into a head-on engagement while flanking the opposing column on foot with an RPG? Pretty cool stuff. IF YOU SEE IT AND CAN CLIMB INTO IT WITHOUT GETTING KILLED, YOU CAN DRIVE/FLY/SWIM IT. PERIOD. You can order anyone in your squad to do the same OR you can have a squad mate be pilot or driver while you operate, say, a door gun or turret. The map is huge, detailed and varied The map editor is easy to use and fun to tinker with. Lastly, this is a military shooter that, in the end, is what YOU make of it.

Anyway, you may already know all of this, but the experience is unique to consoles, and although it's not perfect, it got under my skin. Big time. Bad reviews are from Halo lovers expecting something different or players who just didn't learn to cope with the interface. If gaming (in general) and military shooters (in particular) are your thing, it's worth going out of your way to buy a copy and play it through. You won't be sorry.